Title: Is there an etymological explanation for the silent ‘g’ in “paradigm”?
Word pairs like 'science-conscience', 'sense-nonsense', 'sign-signature', 'paradigm-paradigmatic' have sometimes different pronunciations from each other. They're 'English' words then why do we need to refer to their etymologies in order to explain the difference in spelling or pronunciation? There should* be an explanation in English for such kind of words.
*(can't even say 'should' in English, you know...)
I have seen people refer to their etymologies/origins in order to explain the difference in pronunciation (like this answer on Quora - compare my answer).
I beg to differ with those who refer to their etymologies for explaining the difference in pronunciation or spelling (in these cases).
1. Why do science and conscience have different pronunciations even though 'conscience' does have 'science' in its spelling?
Answer: English explanation → In science, the 'ci' is a part of stressed syllable while in conscience, the 'ci' is a part of unstressed syllable. In unstressed syllables, 'ci' and 'si' often coalesce into /ʃ/. (See Yod-coalescence). Therefore, science is pronounced as /ˈsʌɪəns/ while conscience is pronounced as /ˈkɒnʃ(ə)ns/.
2. Why do sense and nonsense have different pronunciations (i.e. /sɛns/ - /ˈnɒns(ə)ns/ -- different vowel sounds)?
Answer: English explanation → Sense is stressed on first syllable and the vowel is a part of stressed syllable, so it's pronounced as /sɛns/. On the other hand, /ˈnɒns(ə)ns/ is stressed on first syllable and the vowel (nonsense) is a part of unstressed syllable so it reduces to schwa (as usual).
3. Why does 'signature' have /g/ sound while 'sign' doesn't?
Answer: Explained below. Also explained here.
4. Why is the letter ‘g’ in paradigm (paradime) silent but not in paradigmatic? (OP's question)
Answer: Explained below.
Mari Lou A:
Why is the letter ‘g’ in paradigm (paradime) silent but not in paradigmatic?
In 'paradigmatic', the gm is followed by a vowel sound which splits up the gm into two separate syllables; the g becomes a part of one syllable and the m becomes a part of another syllable so the g in this case is not silent while in 'paradigm', there's no vowel sound after the gm so the g is elided because /gm/ is not an allowed consonant cluster in English.
It's the same in 'signature' and other words having 'gn'. /gn/ is also not an allowed cluster in English.
- Sign → signature
- Resign → resignation
- Design → designation
- Impugn → pugnacious
- Sign → signal
- Assign → assignation
Malign → malignant
In all these words, the 'gm' and 'gn' are followed by a vowel sound so the 'gm' and 'gn' are pronounced (not /gm/ but /g/ and /m/ in separate syllables).
One of the reasons for this phenomenon is segment deletion rule.
— An Introduction To Language by Victoria Fromkin, Robert Rodman, Nina Hyams.
Mari Lou A:
Other words of Greek origin such as gnomon, gnostic, and gnosis the ‘g’ is silent but in prognosis, the ‘g’ is instead pronounced.
Phonotactics plays a big role here. In English, we cannot have an onset or a coda consisting of 'plosive + nasal'. Hence, kn-, gm-, pn-, gn- etc. are not possible onsets/codas.
Since English doesn’t allow the consonant cluster /gm/, it must be split between two syllables. So when /gm/ is split up, the /g/ moves to the preceding syllable while the /m/ moves to the next syllable.
★ gm in the beginning of a word: I don't think there's any English word that starts with 'gm'. However, words that start with gn have the g elided from them.
- gnome -> /nəʊm/
- gnaw -> /nɔː/
- gnarl -> /nɑːl/
- gnat -> /næt/ etc.
★ gm and gn in the middle: When 'gm' and 'gn' come in the middle of a word, they split up; the g becomes a part of the preceding syllable and the m / n moves to the next syllable.
- ** stigma -> /ˈstɪɡ•mə/
- sigma -> /ˈsɪɡ•mə/
- fragment -> /ˈfræɡ•mənt/
- zeugma -> /ˈzjuːɡ•mə/
- signature /ˈsɪɡ•nə.tʃər/
- signal /ˈsɪɡ•nəl/ etc.
★ gm and gn at the end: When 'gm' and 'gn' come at the end of a word, the 'g' is elided because /gn/ is not an allowed cluster in syllable coda.
- paradigm -> /ˈpær.ə.daɪm/
- diaphragm -> /ˈdaɪ.ə.fræm/
- phlegm -> /flem/
- sign -> /saɪn/
- malign -> /məˈlaɪn/ etc.
I've explained it in another similar question: Why does “signature” have a “g” sound but “sign” doesn't?
Mari Lou A:
Whenever I come across the word paradigm, I have to make a small conscious effort not to pronounce the letter ‘g’.
Just try to pronounce /gm/ at the end. You will not be able to pronounce the /gm/ as effectively as any allowed cluster.
Even if you try, it will sound like /g(ə)m/ but not exactly /gm/.
Mari Lou A:
But the "g" could easily have remained silent in paradigmatic as in /parədʌɪmatɪk/.
It's because of the phenomenon called trisyllabic laxing. It's the process in which tense vowels (long vowels or diphthongs) become lax (short monophthongs) if they are followed by two syllables, the first of which syllable is unstressed.
So when the diphthong /ʌɪ/ in 'paradigmatic' becomes lax /ɪ/ then a consonant cluster /gm/ forms which is not allowed in English. Therefore, the gm splits up into two syllables. The /ɪ/ combines with /g/ and /m/ combines with /æt/ and becomes /ˌpær.ə.dɪɡˈmæt.ɪk/.
Trisyllabic laxing laxes a vowel that is followed by two (or more) syllables in the same domain, as long as the syllable following the vowel in question is not stressed.
Introduction: English has seen a number of shortening rules throughout its history. One of the
most troublesome and questionable processes of shortening is known as trisyllabic
shortening (TSS), where the vowel in a stressed syllable is shortened if two syllables
follow, as in /sɪnˈsɪə/ vs /sɪnˈsɛrəti/. A controversial issue is whether TSS in late Old
English is the same as in Modern English. Older TSS mostly affected inflected words causing quantity alternations in inflectional paradigms, while in Modern English,
TSS leads to alternations in derivationally related words. The early application of
TSS affected native and non-native words, while Present-day TSS causes quantity
alternations in words with certain Romance suffixes.
— Full explanation available at Oxford University website
- Sincere /sɪnˈsɪə/ → sincerity /sɪnˈser.ə.ti/
- Pronounce /prəˈnaʊns/ → pronunciation /prəˌnʌn.siˈeɪ.ʃən/
- Derive /dɪˈraɪv/ → /dɪˈrɪv.ə.tɪv/
- Divine /dɪˈvaɪn/ → /dɪˈvɪn.ə.ti/
- Impede /ɪmˈpiːd/ → /ɪmˈped.ɪ.mənt/
✻ /eɪ/ often changes to /æ/. Example: Insane /ɪnˈseɪn/ -> insanity /ɪnˈsæn.ə.ti/
✻ /aɪ/ often changes to /ɪ/. Example: Divine /dɪˈvaɪn/ -> divinity /dɪˈvɪn.ə.ti/
✻ /iː/ often changes to /e/. Example: Impede /ɪmˈpiːd/ -> impediment /ɪmˈped.ɪ.mənt/
✻ /ɪə/ often changes to /e/. Example: Sincere /sɪnˈsɪə/ -> /sɪnˈser.ə.ti/
(BrE phonetic transcriptions)
Here are some patterns of how trisyllabic laxing works:
I understand this pattern but I haven't been able to explain it.
Detailed explanation - Page 35